“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Do you have a soft spot for the children’s classic The Little Prince? It’s one of the bestselling books of all time, so its quite likely that you, or someone close to you, does. The good news is that a gorgeous new animation based on the book has come to Netflix. It’s a little gem for the young and the young at heart. You can listen back to my chat about the book and its latest incarnation on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena here.
I’m just gonna come right out and say that this memoir, by longtime music journalist Sylvia Patterson, is one of my books of the year. Patterson has had an incredible career, spanning over thirty years and some of the most influential music magazines of all time. Whether writing about Bros, Britpop or her tough childhood, she is never less than witty, compassionate and engaging. The woman has a way with a killer sentence and a bonanza of wild experiences. You can listen back to my review on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena here.
The photograph above is one of many from John Carder Bush’s new book ‘Kate: Inside the Rainbow’ published by Sphere. It’s taken from the Hounds of Love album cover shoot. The ‘hounds’ featured actually belonged to John and Kate’s Irish mother. The book – a gorgeous coffee table tome – is full of such details and stunning images taken by John, Kate’s brother, over a twenty-year period. It was a pleasure to review and solidifies Kate’s reputation as a ground-breaking creative force to be reckoned with.
You can listen back to my Arena review here. For more details on the book, click here.
Poet, musician, author, artist, trailblazer: Patti Smith is all these things but labels alone cannot do justice to the ambition and breath of her creative work. M Train, her latest book, is a memoir but it is a different beast than Smith’s much-loved Just Kids (2010), which focused on her early career and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. In M Train Smith is struggling to write, wading through the ghosts of times past, telling killer anecdotes and drinking a lot of coffee. For anyone interested in creativity, in writing or in just hanging out with one of the most interesting artists at work today, M Train is a book to savour.
You can listen to my review of it for RTÉ Radio One’s Arena by clicking here.
Last night I had the pleasure of reviewing Harper Lee’s hotly-anticipated ‘Go Set a Watchman’ with Sean Rocks on RTÉ radio’s nightly arts show Arena. Like generations of Irish school kids, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ holds a special place in my heart and I’ll admit that I was concerned the publication of ‘Watchman’ would tarnish it somehow. While ‘Mockingbird’ is still the superior story, ‘Watchman’ is more nuanced, more complex, and, I would say, a fascinating accompaniment to Lee’s masterpiece. Twenty-four hours after I finished reading it, I’m still thinking about ‘Watchman’, not something you experience very often. You can listen back to my review here.
Last Friday (September 13th, but far from unlucky) I was delighted to be able to attend a writing workshop by Penguin Ireland and the RTÉ Guide in Pearse Street Library for the winner and runners up of their annual short story competition. I was shortlisted for this year’s award – hooray! – but getting invited along to meet other writers and hearing from the best in the business was an extra special treat.
So did we all walk away with a handful of magic beans to liberally sprinkle over our scribbles, turning them into surefire best sellers? Not exactly. If there is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to writing, it is that there are no short cuts. You write to rewrite and then rewrite again. A first draft is just that, a first draft, not a finished book. Faith O’Grady from the Lisa Richards Agency stressed the importance of language, plot and character. Writers can get so absorbed by one or two of these, they can forget to balance all three. And publishers always like hearing about ‘books with hooks’.
So, you’ve submitted your story or manuscript and lo, it’s been over three months and you haven’t heard anything. Is it okay to check in with the editor you submitted to? Yes, provided you’re polite and not overbearing, as Penguin’s Patricia Deevy pointed out. No one likes feeling harassed or dealing with difficult people.
The writers panel of Sinead Moriarty, Mary Grehan and Niamh Boyce was excellent; honest, funny and full of insight to the highs, lows and sheer hard work that goes into writing. One thing that I’ll always keep with me is Sinead’s approach to being an author. In the face of all the slaving and the rejection, she pointed out the importance of writing because you love it as opposed to writing to get published. One is about passion, the other is a business plan. One will sustain you, the other will probably always stand you up.
Thank you Penguin Ireland and the RTÉ Guide for a fantastic day out. The sandwiches were delicious and the company was lovely.
I’m a big crime/thriller fan but every so often even I have to take a break from devouring Slaughter and Nesbo. Why? Well, I’m so used to the conventions and the pacing of crime fiction that sometimes I get bored, which is probably my own fault for overdoing it. Reviewing The Shining Girls by South Africa’s Lauren Beukes was refreshing because although it fits neatly into the crime / thriller genre, it takes one of the usual tropes – serial killer on the rampage – and gives it a terrifying new edge: the ability to time travel.
How do you catch a killer who can bounce through time? Beuke’s Harper Curtis is a despicable creation. He bleeds evil. His obsession with finding and brutally murdering ‘shining’ girls (that is, girls on the cusp of doing great things with their lives) continues unchecked from the 1930s until the 1990s, when he picks on the wrong shining girl, Kirby, a brilliantly sparky, tough heroine. Kirby survives, setting out to find her attacker but Harper will not be easily defeated.
If you’re looking for a new twist on crime fiction, The Shining Girls will not disappoint. Like almost every crime / thriller this year, it has been compared to Gone Girl but it is a very different beast. You can listen to my review for RTÉ Radio One’s Arena below:
Apparently the summer is fast approaching although you wouldn’t know it on the Western seaboard of the Emerald Isle – plus ca change and all that. As I type the sky is a moody grey, threatening rain or worse. I know there are downsides to a heatwave but right now a dash of one would be most welcome, which brings us to Ms. O’Farrell’s rather wonderful book.
Firstly, I must confess that Instructions for a Heatwave is – to my shame – the first Maggie O’Farrell book I have ever read. I say ‘shame’ because O’Farrell is one helluva novelist. If you love Anne Tyler – and really, how could you not? – you must check out O’Farrell’s work post haste. Her writing is spare but perfectly stitched together, the portraits she paints of individuals, families and places are flawless. They live and breath on the page. Did I mention how gifted she is?
We meet in the Riordan family in July 1976, as a tremendous heatwave grips London. Recent retiree Robert leaves the family home to ‘get the paper’ but when he doesn’t return matriarch Gretta rallies her children, drawing her fractured family together: Monica the eldest, an unhappy divorcee, Michael Francis the middle child, a frustrated history teacher, and Aoife, the youngest and the wild child. What follows is a masterful exploration of family dynamics and the consequences of secrets that are on the verge of boiling point.
If commercial fiction leaves you underwhelmed Instructions for a Heatwave matches fine writing with an equally finely woven story, making perfect beach reading material. Now, all we need is some sun. Any ideas? For your listening pleasure, here I am reviewing Instructions for a Heatwave with Sean Rocks on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena:
We have to wait until June 5th to find out if Gillian Flynn’s wildly enjoyable Gone Girl pips the all-conquering Bringing Up the Bodiesby Hilary Mantel to the literary post in this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).
Thus far, Gone Girl has been snubbed by major awards in the US, supposedly because the book is strictly speaking a thriller and therefore less than literary, a stance I wholly disagree with. A win for Glynn in June would be entirely deserved. She has managed to create a book that combines and transcends traditional genres and is packed with the type of blistering prose any author would be proud of, literary or otherwise.
Luckily for me, I was asked to review Gone Girl for Arena, RTÉ Radio One’s nightly arts and culture show presented by Sean Rocks, the fruits of which you can enjoy below or above by clicking on the speaker icon.